It is essential to state the following: The Islamic approach towards dealing with any issue relating to faith and practice is direct. Thus, this invariably involves looking at what the Qur’an has to say, how this was understood and applied by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the pious generations, who are considered our perennial role models in all matters of deen (religion).
In fact, belief in pre-destination cannot be used by anyone to justify his sins. While Allah has decreed all things, and that His Decree is at once all-wise and impeccable, human beings have been granted freedom to choose.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: “The fact that all things are already decreed and pre-determined by Allah does not take away from men and women their freedom to choose, for that itself is part of the divine will.
No one can use the excuse of pre-determination for acting irresponsibly. Everyone knows quite well that he has a choice to do certain things, while he has no choice to do certain other things. No one therefore should use the excuse of divine will to justify some evil deed he has committed, for deep inside of him, he knew he had a choice to do it or not to do it.
Allah will punish us only if we have been given the choice. The Qur’an clearly teaches us that we humans are accountable only for such actions that we have control over, and that we would certainly not be accountable for those over which we did not have any control whatsoever.”
Elaborating more on the question of man’s free will, Sheikh Kutty adds: “It is important that we form a sound notion about this issue, in order to avoid any confusion or misgivings. The issue is commonly known as the doctrine of qadaa’ (Divine Decree) and qadar (pre-determination). This issue in so far as it is related to man’s freedom to choose has been a perennial issue that has been contentious in all world religions. The Qur’an provides us the foundations for a balanced approach to this issue. It balances our belief in the divine pre-determination with man’s will and freedom to choose and create his own destiny.
Essentially, the Qur’anic position states that while Allah has decreed all things, and that His Decree is at once all-wise and impeccable, human beings have been granted freedom to choose. The freedom granted to humans, however, does not contradict Allah’s Will or Decree, as it itself is a part of Allah’s Will, since man would not have been able to choose if not for Allah’s Will.
Islam teaches us that Allah is the Creator and Sustainer of this enormous universe and everything it contains in its infinite diversity and multiplicity. He is the Lord of them all, All-Wise, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and All-Aware. Allah has decreed all things in due proportion, balance and harmony. Allah’s creation is immaculately perfect, and there is no discrepancy or disharmony existing in the universe. Almighty Allah says: “(Blessed is He) Who has created seven heavens in tiers. You cannot see any disharmony in the All-Merciful’s creation; look again. Can you see any rift? Then look again, and yet again, your sight will return to you, vanquished and weak.” (Al-Mulk: 3-4)
Stated differently, the Divine Decree or pre-determination is part of the all-embracing knowledge, wisdom, and power of Allah as the Creator. It means that Allah’s Will is supreme, and that Allah is fully in charge of His creation. It teaches us that there is essentially one supreme Will operative in the universe, namely the supreme Will of Allah.
This is on the one hand. On the other hand, we are also taught that Allah, in accordance with His supreme Will, has appointed man as His vicegerent on earth. In His wisdom, Allah has bestowed on man intelligence, moral conscience and revelation. Allah has bestowed on him these resources in order for him to exercise freely between what is good and bad. Man is rewarded or punished based on such choices he has made.
Thus, the fact that Allah’s Decree is supreme does not contradict the fact that man has been given choice and freedom. But human freedom is not unlimited; it works within the all pervasive Will of Allah. Man’s choice is granted to him by Allah; man cannot choose without Allah’s Will; in so far he exercises his will, he does so by Allah’s Will. “But you cannot will unless Allah wills; Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Al-Insan: 30).
Let us list a few Qur’anic verses to further illuminate this concept:
“Say: ‘Truth is from your Lord’. Now whosoever will, may believe, and whosoever will, may disbelieve.” (Al-Kahf: 29). “If it had been your Lord’s will, all who are in the earth would have believed. Will you, then, force the people to become believers?” (Yunus: 99).
The above verses clearly establish the fact that human beings have the freedom to choose. So the belief in pre-determination is not opposed to man’s freedom to choose or act in the universe.
It was because of the balanced understanding concerning Divine Will and human choice that the early Muslims were the most active and dynamic in their approach to taking action to improve themselves and the society around them. Their belief in qadaa’ and qadar, instead of making them passive and complacent, acted as a powerful impetus for change. They believed that nothing in the universe could stop them if they believed in Allah and their own power to realize what is beneficial. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘Always entertain positive and beneficial thoughts, and seek the help of Allah in accomplishing your tasks, and never feel helpless or impotent. If, in spite of your best efforts, something does not work out the way you had planned, then simply say: that was Allah’s Will; He does what He wills. But never say to yourself: I wish I had done this or that; if it had been so, it would have been different. For such thoughts (are not const
ructive at all and) only open the door for Satan to act!’”